For as much flack as the ACC catches on the national scene, it's become an often overlooked league for fantasy success. This season sees the conference bring back its top seven passers, six of its top nine rushers and five of its top 11 receivers. That looks like the perfect blend of consistency and opportunity, as fantasy owners can get some known commodities and sprinkle in some new sleepers. And because of the conference's perception, they'll also come cheaper than their SEC or Big 12 counterparts.
TOP-5 FANTASY STARS
1. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
Boyd gave owners who gambled on him last season more than 4,000 yards of total offense, 38 touchdowns while completing nearly 60 percent of his passes. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris still didn't think the Tigers were fast enough and wants more plays out of his unit in 2012. Boyd welcomes back his top two receivers, and his top running back. What's not to like? Boyd did catch an interception bug late in the year (seven of his 12 picks came in the final five games,) but it's hard to envision him suffering through a slump.
2. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Some might consider Watkins a bust candidate. He's suspended for the first two games, and how on earth can he top his freshman season? Clemson has depth at wide receiver, and obviously Watkins will be hard pressed to sniff the 1,400 yards of offense he totaled a year ago in two less contests. But the flip side is he's falling in drafts because of those factors. You're now looking at getting one of the nastiest weapons in the nation at WR2 pricing. Sign me up please.
3. Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina
Bernard is another player in this conference who's an absolute stud, but seems to be causing folks some pause on draft day. Yes, the Tar Heels have a new coach and thus a new offense. Big deal. North Carolina also returns four offensive lineman and its quarterback. At 5-foot-10, 200, Bernard is perfectly built to hide behind his linemen out of the spread, hit holes and be gone before anyone sees him. He also caught 45 passes a season ago and could threaten 60 catches this year. The Heels receiving corp is a walking mash unit early in camp, and new coach Larry Fedora knows he has a proven commodity in Bernard. Don't be scared to draft Bernard as your top running back.
4. Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech
Thomas' first season under center wasn't without some speed bumps, but in the end, he gave his owners 30 total touchdowns and almost 3,500 yards of combined offense. Unfortunately, that's probably Thomas' ceiling for the 2012 campaign. The Hokies lost their top rusher in David Wilson and top two receivers in Danny Coale and Jarrett Boykin. And they'll also be replacing up to four offensive linemen. Don't think the Hokies are completely void of talent, but growing pains can be expected across the board, and Thomas likely will suffer as a result.
5. Conner Vernon, WR, Duke
Bad teams make for good fantasy players. Every year it seems we're reading about Duke finally winning six games and making it to a bowl. And while that very may well happen in 2012, it obviously will only happen if the Blue Devils outscore opponents. Duke quarterback Sean Renfree was third in the conference in both completions and attempts last season - translation, Duke throws often. Vernon will be without his Killer V teammate, Donovan Varner, and could see increased defensive attention as a result. But he's averaged 69 receptions in his three years in Durham, and there's no reason to think he won't at least match that again during his senior campaign.
Mike Glennon, QB, North Carolina State
All preseason rankings have their omissions; it's almost like selecting an all-star team, someone has to be left off. But Glennon is getting no respect nationally, and is coming off a 3,054-yard, 31-touchdown season. He has his full complement of running backs returning, and though the 'Pack have no proven receivers, Glennon is poised to make a star out of one or more of his pass catchers. There's no reason to expect any regression in his second season starting.
Perry Jones, RB, Virginia
Jones was a bit of a slow starter in 2011, totaling just 173 yards on the ground through the Cavaliers' first three games. But he awoke in October and proved one of the more versatile options in the conference. Virginia's depth Works against Jones (he'll share carries with Kevin Parks and Clifton Richardson,) and both his backfield teammates are more likely to see the goal-line touches. But Jones more than makes up for it when you factor in his receiving skills - hauled in 48 receptions a season ago. The sum here is greater than its parts, and somehow, some way, Jones finished with 232 touches, 1,421 yards and eight scores last year. That will play in any lineup, and it comes awfully cheap.
Bryn Renner, QB, North Carolina
We're almost at a fever pitch in the Renner hype. It's easy to forget that Renner completed an astounding 68.3 percent of his passes as a rookie starter, going for nearly 3,100 yards and 26 touchdowns. The hype surrounding Renner is simply the arrival of head coach Larry Fedora's spread offense and, so far, has had little to do with the fact that Renner's actually a darn good quarterback. He had offseason surgery to clean up some bone spurs in his feet, and he might surprise some folks with his mobility as well. He's not going to rush for 400 yards, but any rushing paired with an increase in passing attempts is going to make Renner a quality fantasy quarterback in more games than not.
DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
With all the offensive talent in Clemson, it seems easy to overlook Hopkins, who's caught 123 balls for nearly 1,600 yards in his first two seasons. The only reason to press the pause button is that Hopkins has just nine touchdowns over that span. But this is an offense that will produce multiple fantasy stars, and Hopkins figures to be the cheapest of the bunch.
Colin Larmond, WR, Boston College
Perhaps this is a reach, but the simple rationale is that someone at Boston College has to do something. Larmond has good size and is a tremendous deep threat, as evident by his 18 yards per catch during his career. He's also now two years removed from knee surgery, which certainly can't hurt. Call it a hunch, but if Larmond can get any semblance of consistent quarterback play, he has a shot to turn in an 800-plus yard season. He'll have his share of stinkers, but if you play the right matchup, he's capable of stealing you a week.
Rashad Greene, WR, Florida State
Greene is the first of five on this list who is an incredibly solid player but will simply have trouble meeting his expected fantasy value. Greene scored six times in his first five games last year, before the injury bug hit. And while five catches, 99 yards and a score in the Seminoles' bowl game may make owners optimistic, use a little caution if you're drafting Greene to anchor your receiving corps. He's not a tremendous red-zone target at just 6-foot, and five FSU receivers caught at least 26 passes last season. And that doesn't include Kelvin Benjamin, who redshirted last year.
Mike James, RB, Miami
James is a tremendous leader and an invaluable member of the Hurricanes. That's not going to help your fantasy squad much. He's being drafted as a workhorse back, but he's never been asked to shoulder the load since arriving in Coral Gables. James has also struggled with ball-security issues and averaged just 3.8 yards per carry in 2011. He's got a knack for finding the end zone, which should limit his floor, but with the speedier Eduardo Clements, and hot-shot freshman Randy "Duke" Johnson also in the fold, James' ceiling isn't as high as fantasy owners usually require.
Andre Ellington, RB, Clemson
It might be tough to convince some that a player who rushed for nearly 1,200 yards and scored 11 touchdowns will be a bust, but here goes. This all comes down to the health of the 5-10, 190, runnign back. Ellington hasn't made it through either of the last two seasons without missing some action, which creates two schools of thought for this season: 1) Clemson, which has plenty of offensive firepower, limits his touches to keep him healthy or 2) he gets injured again and misses time. Either way, the potential for decreased statistics exists. He's a tremendous running back, but let him be someone else's headache.
Tanner Price, QB, Wake Forest
This conference has 10 returning quarterbacks in 2012 and not all likely will continue to grow. Price's success in 2011 was probably the biggest surprise under center, but when you pair one returning offensive lineman with the loss of your top wide receiver in Chris Givens, the ingredients are there for Price to struggle in his third season. He's a solid quarterback, but repeating a 20-6 TD/INT ratio would be stunning. There's just too much depth at quarterback, both nationally and in conference, to consider drafting Price.
James Washington, RB, North Carolina State
Washington is in line for a full-fledged committee role in Raleigh. Tony Creecy impressed down the stretch last season, and Mustafa Greene, arguably the team's most talented rusher, appears to be healthy and working his way out of Tom O'Brien's doghouse. For Washington to even sniff the 268 touches he saw last season would be an upset, and 200 could be pushing it. Basic math tells you fewer touches equals fewer fantasy points.
TEAM-BY-TEAM FANTASY STARS
Boston College Eagles
RB Rolandan Finch (59)
QB Tajh Boyd (11), RB Andre Ellington (22), WR Sammy Watkins (16), WR DeAndre Hopkins (32), TE Brandon Ford (14), K Chandler Catanzaro (6)
Duke Blue Devils
WR Conner Vernon (27)
Florida State Seminoles
QB E.J. Manuel (31), WR Rashad Greene (19), TE Nick O'Leary (34), K Dustin Hopkins (10)
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
QB Tevin Washington (32), RB Orwin Smith (57)
TE Matt Furstenburg (29)
RB Mike James (44), TE Clive Walford (36)
North Carolina Tar Heels
QB Bryn Renner (40), RB Giovani Bernard (16), WR Erik Highsmith (44), TE Eric Ebron (27), K Casey Barth (9)
North Carolina State Wolfpack
WR Tobais Palmer (34)
WR Tim Smith (71)
Virginia Tech Hokies
QB Logan Thomas (25), RB Michael Holmes (42), WR Marcus Davis (41), WR D.J. Coles (60)
Wake Forest Demon Deacons
WR Michael Campanaro (30)